Important work being carried out by GPOs in Leinster
By Cian O’Connell
Just over a year ago Leinster GAA announced that 30 new coaches were being recruited.
Games Promotion Officer roles were created with the intention of assisting clubs and helping to drive further activity.
With restrictions eased following a couple of years impacted severely by Covid the desire for Gaelic Games remains extremely high.
Alan Mulhall, provincial games development manager for north Leinster, is delighted with how the GPOs are faring. “From our point of view it is after going very well,” he says. “The appetite in the clubs for GPOs is massive, the ones we are talking to around the province.
“With the number of new staff we have taken on we have seen a big growth in activity. Seasons are being longer, more players are playing for longer, and the clubs seem to be happier. It is providing more activity around the clubs, we'd be very happy with where it is going.”
James Devane, provincial games development manager for south Leinster, is similarly encouraged about how the GPO model continues to be implemented. “At the time we took on roughly 30 which added to I think about 30 at the time, maybe a bit more,” Devane says. “So it doubled our total of GPOs, they've made a huge impact really.
“In the urban areas the impact is probably more obvious, you have a lot of schools and kids that didn't get the same service of coaching up to now.
“So it had a big impact there and we have definitely seen that translate into more players in clubs, a lot more.
“Even the medium sized or small sized clubs, who we didn't exclude from the process because we wanted everybody to have an opportunity if they wanted to join it, but they are feeling the same bounce.
“Maybe not the same numbers, but there is probably more solid connections with local schools which we probably took for granted that was there.”
That urban and rural clubs are benefiting is a source of pride. “With the way people work now and influences that had so a hold in primary schools weakening off, the GPOs have replaced that traditional stronghold in the primary schools,” Devane adds.
“We had Offaly clubs in recently, as much as Edenderry and Tullamore are delighted with it, you also have the likes of St Rynagh's in Banagher, which would be a little bit urban, but certainly rural parts, Shinrone - quite a rural club, who won their first ever county title, we won't claim credit for that, but we will try.
“Certainly they are feeling the same benefits that a bigger place like Tullamore or Edenderry are. That has been a real eye opener for us.”
The increased activity is vital according to Mulhall. “The exposure to the extra GAA is driving the demand in the clubs,” Mulhall states. “We are finding that the kids are getting football or hurling in schools and in the club which is great. They are getting more exposure to our games.”
Having a GPO enables clubs to plan and implement new ideas. It also affords clubs opportunities to upskill coaches already taking teams in clubs. “We have been talking to different GPOs and different clubs in the last few weeks, what we are finding is the fact that there is a definite coaching person in a club means they are able to recruit better,” Mulhall explains.
“We are having more courses individually in clubs. Rather than asking to go into a region or have one in maybe Tullamore with asking people from all over to come to it, you might get two or three from surrounding clubs.
“With the GPO model the GPOs can deliver Introduction to Coaching Games or Award One are run in their own clubs. You might get 10, 12, 14 coaches coming to a course in the club rather than three or four going on a regional basis.
“Having that person driving the standard of coaching in the club is making a big difference there. The feedback is that we are getting more coaches involved, particularly at nursery level.”
With a GPO, clubs are able to deliver initiatives with a designated person able to spearhead the activity. I was talking to a fairly big club in Kildare, we were having a chat about how the GPO was working,” Mulhall says.
“James and myself would always make it relevant, if you're standing down in the club on a Tuesday evening and you're looking around thinking you'd love to run an Easter Camp or an after school programme or a before school programme or an athletic development programme, but you don't have the time.
“Now clubs can expand their programmes because they have someone there. So when clubs are coming up with ideas, now there is somebody there to deliver that for them.
“It isn't all just landing back on the volunteer. We aren't replacing volunteers in any way, we are trying to resource them and assist them.”
Undoubtedly a thirst for knowledge exists. Coaches want to access information and develop. “We'd find the whole give me a drill or give me a game activity that people might have asked, they are looking for something a bit deeper,” Devane responds.
“Our TURAS coaching framework, what we see as good coaching, we developed it along with Aine McNamara in DCU.
“Our GPO would deliver that for the club coaches, it is driving for that sustainability. We are teaching them to be better coaches, we aren't in there to take every team in the club. We are trying to upskill the coaches, that is where it has advanced.”
Devane acknowledges that hurdles always need to be cleared. “We are taking on a large scale employment programme that relies ultimately on good people,” Devane says. “As much as our programmes are good you live and die by how good your person is in a club.
“We have found challenges in that. Our age demographic, while we have some people retiring out of careers - which is brilliant and they bring a nice bit of life experience with them - a lot of our staff are young people, not long graduated, and as the world opens up again they are beginning to travel.
“So we have lost a few staff that we would have loved to keep. There is a constant recruitment and retention challenge. We see this as worth it because we have feet back on the ground.”
That is crucial. New members are being recruited, coaching is provided, and further developments will take place. “We were part of the document that came out from Croke Park, Tracy Bunyan produced a great document with all of the highlights that is happening in the GAA and the activity that is being driven,” Mulhall says.
“When we were able to drill down, to see what was being done by our staff in Leinster - GDAs and GPOs - we'd be very happy. It is after nearly validating the work we are doing.”